This is the second post in a series in which I explore certain spiritual lackings specifically in the business and corporate world but more generally in modern society, based on my own experiences. If you haven’t read the previous post, please do so here.
In this post, I talk about the second reason why I think that the business/corporate world generally wires us for misery: belief that success = happiness
It’s a plain fact that our society worships success and considers it the means to attain happiness. Whether you’re a university student chasing grades, a salesman chasing sales targets or an investment banker chasing deals, our only real chance at happiness is through success, we’re told. Our role models and celebrities are always telling us how wonderful life is once you ‘make it’ and can afford exotic vacations and fancy cars and clothes.
From a spiritual standpoint, this is a futile goal because happiness and misery are two sides of the same coin. You cannot have pleasure without pain – this duality is the nature of the physical world. Does that mean we shouldn’t try to be successful in life? Of course not. The trouble is only with the linking of success to happiness. Spiritual teachings therefore advise a disconnect between the two. The message of the Bhagvat Gita for instance, is to work without a selfish motive or expectation of the fruits of action. The ancient poem tells of Krishna’s advice to Arjuna on the eve of battle, when Arjuna, an accomplished warrior is wrestling with self doubt about going into battle with his cousins and uncles. Krishna’s advice is:
Sukh-dukh same kritva labhalabhau jayajayau
tatho yuddhaya yujyasva naivam papam avapsyasi
“Treating with equanimity, happiness and misery, gain and loss, victory and defeat, fight the war”
Working in this way, one might think is a bit cruel because it implies not owning one’s successes. But what about the fact that it also means not owning your failures? Wouldn’t that save so many from depression, jealousy, anger, not feeling good enough, etc, etc? And let’s not forget that even so called success does not bring the happiness we often think it will and even if it does, it is only temporary because impermanence is the nature of life.
Sadly, that’s hardly what advertisements, TV shows, movies and even parents, teachers and authority figures teach us. Instead, when we fail to be successful at something, we’re handed one of those very mathematical articles that give you ‘7 steps to boost your self esteem’, ’10 ways to recover from failure’, ‘5 ways to feel better about yourself’, etc. etc.
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